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Contempt Of Court (Qld)

Contempt of court is an act which has a tendency to interfere with or undermine the authority of the court. It is considered a serious offence and punished accordingly.  Examples of contempt of court include improper behaviour in court, attempting to influence participants in a case, failing to comply with a court order, or publishing material which prejudices a fair trial or undermines public confidence in the court system.

The offence is found in several pieces of legislation in Queensland.

Magistrates Court Act 1921

Section 50 of the Act states contempt of the Magistrates Court is committed when a person:

  • fails to comply with a court order or an undertaking given to the court, without lawful excuse;
  • wilfully insults a magistrate or court officer at the court;
  • unlawfully obstructs or assaults someone attending court;
  • disobeys a court order or direction during a hearing;
  • commits any other contempt of the court.

The maximum penalty for the first type of contempt listed is 200 penalty units ($26,690) or imprisonment for 3 years. For the other types, the maximum penalty is $11,209.80 or imprisonment for 1 year.

The court can order the person committing contempt to leave the courtroom, and a court officer can use reasonable and necessary force to take the person into custody and detain them until the court is ready to rise. The court can then ask the person to explain why they should not be punished and deal with the matter, or adjourn the matter to a stated date.

Evidence Act 1977

Section 39O of this Act covers contempt of court in relation to when audio-visual or audio links are used in Queensland courts. It states a person must not:

  • assault a witness, legal practitioner or court officer;
  • deliberately interrupt or obstruct a court;
  • create or continue or join a disturbance at the site of the link;
  • deliberately disobey a court order or direction given during the proceeding, without lawful excuse;
  • do any act that would be contempt of court in a Queensland court.

The maximum penalty is imprisonment for 3 months.

Criminal Code Act 1899

Section 644 of this Act states that a person or officer of a corporation who fails to comply with a subpoena may be in contempt of court. The subpoena may order the person or officer to appear to give evidence or to produce documents.

Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 1999

There are several regulations contained in the Uniform Civil Procedure Rules that relate to contempt.

Regulation 922 provides that if the court believes a person is guilty of contempt, it can orally direct the person be brought before the court or issue a warrant for their arrest.

Regulation 923 allows the court to hold the person in custody to deal with the charge, or to release the person on conditions, such as the provision of security to help secure the person’s appearance to answer the charge.

Regulation 924 states that at a hearing for contempt, the court must:

  • inform the person of the contempt charge; and
  • ask the person why punishment should not be imposed; and
  • decide the matter in any way it considers appropriate; and
  • order the person be punished or discharged.

Regulations 925-932 govern applications for punishment for contempt and general considerations. A person can  apply to a court alleging another person is in contempt of court. A copy of the application must be served on the respondent personally. A court can decide to issue a warrant for the respondent’s arrest if it considers the respondent is likely to abscond. A respondent can offer security to secure their release to answer the charge. If the respondent has committed a contempt, the court has discretion to impose a punishment it deems suitable. If the respondent is a corporation, the court can seize corporation property, issue a fine, or both. The court can also make an order for costs against a respondent found guilty of contempt.

Regulation 904 states that for a person to be found guilty of contempt for disobeying a court order, the person must have been personally served with an order and must have been given reasonable time to comply with it.

Examples of contempt

Contempt of court can take many forms, including in relation to the disclosure of information, or in parenting disputes.

Disclosure of information

A person can be held in contempt of court in situations such as when they publish documents relating to a current or pending court case, or documents that could influence a witness or jury. Contempt can also include when a person publishes material that is subject to a non-publication order issued by a court, or when the material is subject to parliamentary privilege.

Parenting disputes

A person can be held in contempt of court if they substantially breach a parenting order without a valid reason, such as denying a parent time with a child on multiple occasions, or not returning the child to the parent with whom the child lives.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Sally Crosswell

This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

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